After a week of spontaneous email chains filled with summitpost links, shit talking, and general ridiculousness, we (Jacob Felderman, Albert Lin, Toby Guillete, and myself) were finally on our way up to Lone Pine for a weekend climb of The Fishhook Arete. Toby was working’ the iPod and happened to throw on a great album by Ozomatli collaborating with Chali 2na (“Charlie Tuna”), and out of 2na’s fast flowing rhymes came the word “fishhook.” It was a sign (Sign #1). Chali 2na immediately became our mascot, and The Fishhook Arete would be known as the Charlie Tunafish Hook Arete.
About an hour into the drive, I realized I had forgotten the combo to the lock box at the Lone Pine Ranger Station containing our permits. After a rest stop and some grub, I remember that the combo is 1964. While filling up at the gas station in LonePine, I dig in the back of Jake’s Rav 4 for some gear and drop a bottle of red wine on the ground . We spend the next 10 minutes cleaning it up and I buy a cheap bottle of “Ancient Age” Bourbon for the trip. We discover that SunChips come in an amazing new flavor: Cinnamon (you’ve got to try them, they’re like crack for people who don’t actually do crack). We reach Whitney Portal at 1130pm and set sleeping bags next to Lone Pine Creek for what proved to be one of the most peaceful nights of sleep I have ever had the night before a big trip (SIGN #2).
The next morning we woke up at 830 and had breakfast next to the cars which were parked perfectly down wind from the Whitney Portal bathrooms. We hit the trail at 9am and were at LBL by 11am. We had a run in with Miguell (forjan on Summitpost, The Jesus to some), who told us to camp at UBL and descend the east ridge back to camp after climbing. This was advice we should have followed to a “T” but didn’t. This would cost us dearly. While Miguel was speaking of his latest adventures in the Sierra in his perfect The Jesus voice, Albert caught a fish in the running shallows of LBL…with his bare hands. This earned Albert the Manly Man reward for the trip. Sure it was a small fish with a crippled fin similar to Nemo’s and had mild fish retardation and was blind, but none of that should detract from Albert’s ultra-manly feat. We cooked the fish in Albert’s jetboil (it almost made me throw up) while other hikers resting at LBL gathered to admire one of the last remaining real wild men in the US: Albert Lin. There might have been panties thrown.
Our new plan to camp at UBL meant that after another hour of hiking, we were done for the day. Toby and I headed up to some walls and I led a couple pitches (definite FA) to “show Toby the ropes,” for the next day would both be Toby’s first multi-pitch climb, first trad climb, and in fact his first outdoor lead belay. We got into our sleeping bags around 9pm after a couple rounds of dinner.
Toby woke us at 4am and we were all relieved to find that it was the perfect temperature for our approach. We began by skirting UBL via an annoying boulder field on it east shore.
From there is was a sandy flat valley for about 400 meters until we found ourselves at the end encircled by a horseshoe ridge of 1000 foot granite walls formed by the Whitney-Russell saddle. It was apparent that we had to cross this saddle somehow in order to gain the beginning of the Fishhook. We ascended us talus and scree to the right and then traversed left along more talus and scree towards a low flat section in the saddle.
Over the saddle, the boulder strewn slope descended into the valley of frozen lakes, snaking out east towards the massive Kern River Valley which was a blanket of evergreen trees beyond which lie the jagged western sierra.
We reached the base of Fishhook around 9am and Albert and Jake roped up to begin the first pitch, which turned out to be a ramp formation that parallelled the first 2 official pitches but shortened the route by approximately 80 feet. 2 pitches later, we were relieved to arrive at the well known notch in the route. This drops about 40 feet down and then climbs back up onto the Arete with a cool mantle as the first move. We debated having the follower do a pendulum (which would have been painful), but both followers were able to downclimb into the notch without falling. The next 4 pitches were superb, flowing, exposed, and varried in both style and difficulty (from 5.4 to 5.9-), as they ascended the straightforward arete, without much sustained climbing above 5.7 and perfect belay stations. As I topped out pitch 6, I noticed a huge storm approaching from across the Sierra Nevada range. My estimates put the storm directly over us within the next hour. 20 minutes later, as Toby grunted up the 6th and hardest overall pitch, hail was pelting my helmet and I watched in horror as the rock which I would be leading on next started to glisten with moisture. Not only did it seem easier at that point to power through the last 2 pitches than attempting a rap retreat, but my manliness told me that if I retreated, I might as well wear a fucking tootoo for the rest of my pitiful life. So on I led up the 7th pitch and to my relief, the sun came out as I started up from the anchor and midway through the pitch, all was dry. One more short but stout 75 foot pitch put me on top of the mountain at 5pm where Jake and Albert were packing up their gear. I belayed Toby up to the top while listening to Jake tell tales of his epic deuce somewhere on the top.
It was glorious! We spent about 20 minutes basking in the glory that is topping out a multipitch route on a 14000 foot mountain. And that was the end of our fun…for the rest of the trip.
Going against The Jesus’ beta, we decided to descend back to camp via the route we came up, rather than the suggested east ridge. We dropped into the gully two gullies east of the top of Fishhook. This was a looong slide down mixed talus and scree which ended at the Whitney-Russell saddle. Over the saddle we went and started back down the Valley which led to UBL and our camp just below that. We arrived at our camp just as the remains of the day faded to black, moonless sky. Tired and physically beat from the rough terrain, we ate some food and packed camp. By the time we got up and started the hike back down from UBL, it was close to 9pm and headlights were required. The passing storm had caused the trickle, which was the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek at the beginning of the day, to turn into a solid flow, which made our chosen path, straight down exposed granite slabs towards LBL, a bit trickier. We reached the car around midnight, tired, beat, and not quite ready to drive back to San Diego. After a dinner in the 24/7 diner in Lone Pine (which I could hardly down, due to nausea), we struggled to drive back with open eye-lids. But alas, we made it alright. It was awesome, and I’m going back for more (LPP, Red Baron Tower) this weekend…cause that’s how we do.